The Role of the FCO in UK Government

04 November 2010

The Foreign Affairs Committee has announced a new inquiry into The Role of the FCO in UK Government

It is widely claimed that the position of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in UK Government has weakened in recent years. The new Foreign Secretary has said that the FCO is now “back where it belongs at the centre of Government”. The environment in which the FCO operates is now shaped by the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which determined the resources available to the FCO for the expected remainder of this Parliament; the new National Security Council (NSC), based in the Cabinet Office; and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and new National Security Strategy which the NSC has elaborated. In the National Security Strategy, the NSC declared that “Britain’s national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence”. These developments affecting the FCO are occurring as the internationalisation of many policy areas and the rise of rapid global communications are seen as challenging foreign ministries’ traditional role well beyond the UK.

The Foreign Affairs Committee will conduct an inquiry into “The Role of the FCO in UK Government”. It invites written submissions which address the following terms of reference:

  • What is the FCO’s role in UK Government? Given the policy framework established by the new National Security Strategy, the creation of the National Security Council and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, what should the FCO’s role now be, and how should the Department relate to other parts of Government?
  • How should the Foreign Secretary’s claim to be putting the FCO “back where it belongs at the centre of Government” be assessed?
  • Especially given the spending constraints set out in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, how - if at all - could the FCO better organise and utilise its financial and human resources so as to fulfil its role?
  • How does the FCO work across Whitehall? Are the FCO and its resources organised so as to facilitate cross-Government cooperation?
  • What should be the role of the FCO’s network of overseas posts?
  • What is the FCO’s role in explaining UK foreign policy to the British public?
  • What should be the FCO’s role in relation to non-governmental organisations?
  • Given the new Government’s emphasis on using the FCO to promote UK trade and economic recovery, how can the Department best avoid potential conflicts between this task, support for human rights, and the pursuit of other Government objectives?

The Committee would welcome submissions which address, in particular, the FCO’s relationships with the Department for International Development, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Office (including the National Security Council); the role of the security services in relation to the FCO; and the FCO’s role in the management and implementation of EU business for the UK Government.

The Committee’s inquiry is expected to build on its separate current inquiry into “FCO Performance and Finances”, in which the Committee is examining the immediate implications of the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review for the FCO and its associated public bodies.

The Committee is expected to hold its first two oral evidence sessions for its inquiry into “The Role of the FCO in UK Government” on Wednesday 8 and Wednesday 15 December.

Call for evidence:

Interested groups or individuals are encouraged to submit written evidence to the inquiry. Written evidence should be received by the Committee no later than Monday 29 November.

View guidance on submitting written evidence.

Form of written evidence:

Each submission should contain the following information:

  • a short summary in bullet point form;
  • brief introduction about the person submitting evidence, perhaps explaining their area of expertise;
  • any factual information from which the Committee might be able to draw conclusions, or which could be put to other witnesses; and
  • any recommendations for action by the Government or others which the submitter would like the Committee to consider for inclusion in its report to the House.

How to format submissions:

Each submission should use:

  • numbered paragraphs, and
  • MS Word format with as little use of colour/ logos as possible.

Submitting evidence:

Submissions should be sent as an e-mail attachment to [email protected] and titled ‘The Role of the FCO in UK Government Inquiry’. Paper copies may be sent to Foreign Affairs Committee, Committee Office, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Inquiry-related questions:

Please contact Brigid Fowler, Committee Specialist, on 020 7219 4082 or by email to [email protected]

Media enquiries:

Members of the press with enquiries should contact Alex Paterson, Select Committee Media Officer, on 020 7219 1589, or 07917 488488, or by email to [email protected]

Image: PA

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